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Published on October 13, 2015

pile of sugar cubes

Addicted to sugar? Six strategies to break your habit

Sugar: Many of us are hooked on it.

“Studies show that people get close to 20 teaspoons of added sugar per day,” says Kalli Kurtenbach, RD LN, Diabetes Educator at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

That’s the equivalent of two cans of pop and a Snickers bar.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars — sugar and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation — to 6 teaspoons per day for women (about 100 calories per day) and 9 for men (about 150 calories per day).

It’s important to distinguish between added sugar and natural sugar, like the sugar found in fruits and vegetables, Kurtenbach said. Cutting back on added sugar doesn’t mean you need to stop eating fruits and certain vegetables that are high in natural sugar. For example, a banana has 14 grams of sugar, but it also provides nutritional benefits. Added sugar and liquid sugar, such as pop and juice, are more likely to cause negative effects.

We all know that excess sugar consumption is bad for our health and our waistlines. But cutting back isn’t easy. The biggest hurdle? Sugary foods are easily accessible. And advertisers make it hard to say no.

The best way to break your sugar habit is to find strategies that work for you — and stick with it. Here’s how:

  • Learn how much added sugar you consume. Keep a food diary. “It might not be the most exciting way, but it helps you get a snapshot of your typical sugar intake,” Kurtenbach said. Check out free fitness apps that do the number crunching for you.
  • Plan ahead. Avoid a last-minute trip to the drive-thru by planning your meals. “If you’re hungry and stressed, it’s a lot easier to go for sugary foods than if you had something set up as a go-to meal,” Kurtenbach said.
  • Clean out your pantry and your desk drawers. Take a look at the food in your environment. If you have ice cream or cookies in your house, you’re more likely to eat that instead of a healthy alternative.
  • Find other ways to relieve stress. They call it comfort food for a reason. When you reach for a candy bar, it’s often because you’re using sugar as a stress reliever. Instead, choose a different activity, like walking. Also, don’t beat yourself up if you do eat that candy bar. “You’re practicing a new lifestyle change. It takes some time,” Kurtenbach said.
  • Eat enough of the right foods. Make sure you include protein in your diet, especially when you crave sugary foods. Plan a healthy snack, like peanut butter and an apple. Be sure to add healthy fats to your diet, like nuts, avocados and olive oil, Kurtenbach noted.
  • Find new sources of motivation. It takes dedication to make a lifestyle change. “Find new sources of motivation each day,” Kurtenbach said. “Think, why am I eating healthier? Why am I taking care of myself?”

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